The Parents' Corner

by Emily Rizzo
July 1996

Q. I came out to my parents six months ago and they are doing okay with it, but when I mentioned that I want to come out to my grandmother they got upset and said the news would kill her.

A. First of all, you can assure your parents that no one ever died upon learning a grandchild is gay, it's just not there in the medical text books!

Seriously, even though we assume that old people are more conservative, they often surprise us. I've heard countless stories of grandparents, some rural and uneducated, who didn't bat an eyelash but kept on loving their grandchild and accepted his or her lover as a member of the family.

People may not grow wiser with age but they do have more experience dealing with different people. It's quite likely that you aren't the first gay person your grandmother knows. Also, today's older generation are far less accepting of social conventions: just think of all the older couples "living in sin" so they don't have to give up the extra social security check!

It's also important to remember that no one will take the news as personally as your parents. There's the strong notion in our society that children are the end product of their parents and any "flaw" in the child must be a reflection of bad parenting. That's why parents often feel guilty and express the notion that they must have done something wrong to cause their child to be gay. It's only when they come to understand that being gay isn't wrong, only different, that they get over these feelings of guilt.

You also have to remember that your grandparents are your parents' parents, which means that they are carrying around a certain amount of emotional baggage. In some ways, people never outgrow parent-child problems and your parents may be struggling themselves with an overly critical or disapproving parent. They may be afraid that your being gay will be held up to them as one more sign of their failure.

Ultimately, however, your grandmother is not just your parent's parent but your grandma, with an independent relationship to you. No one has the right to tell you who you can or cannot come out to. Your own relationship with your grandmother can be harmed by your not coming out. Eric Marcus, the author of "Is It a Choice?" among other books on gay life, wrote a wonderful piece in Newsweek Magazine about coming out to his own grandmother (see it here). He makes the point that if you don't come out, eventually you will be left with nothing left to talk about but the weather.

On the other hand, you have to consider the consequences. Will your coming out to your grandmother against your parents' wishes result in a rupture of your relationship with them? Your best bet is to talk it over with them.

Emily Rizzo will answer your questions in The Parent's Corner each month. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot guarantee that every question will get a personal response. Responses will appear in the next monthly issue of Oasis. The confidentiality of respondents is guaranteed, and questions can be anonymous or identified by a first name, age and location. Emily can be reached at oasis-emily@oasismag.com.
©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.